Back in the fall, I “questioned the feasability”:/2005/08/23/intro-courses-and-the-viability-of-four-fields/ of the four-field approach in a “Cégep”:http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/CEGEP -level course. My problems were largely based on the fact that I had always imitated what my colleagues were doing: starting with 4 weeks of physical anthropology, including physical evolution, our relationship with other primates and modern human variation, then 2 weeks of archaeology. This left me with very little time to cover a large body of knowledge of cultural anthropology, including one week of linguistics, specifically sociolinguistics.
In my previous post, I said that I would try to start backwards. In other words, instead of ending with globalisation and cutting a lot of it out because I was too tight for time at the end, I was going to start with that topic and work my way back to the past. Well, I didn’t wind up doing that. But I did come up with a way of teaching my intro course that pleases me while still fulfilling the four-field approach.
What I’m doing now is integrating the four fields at every step. Instead of spending chunks of the course focusing on one field at a time, I go through the course focussing on topics and, for each topic, I examine the contributions of the various subfields. So I started the semester simply talking about culture. What is it (definitions and descriptions)? What does it do (shape our assumptions)? How do we learn about it in the present and in the past (this is where the subfields come in)?
Now, at week 5 of the semester, I’m moving on to specific aspects of culture such as worldview and religion. Again, we will look at the topic in general while specifying how the different subfields contribute to our understanding of it. And so forth for gender and sexuality, economic systems, political structures, etc. I’m therefore doing things a bit differently than my colleagues, most of whom are more experienced than I am, but I’m quite comfortable with going out on a limb.
I’m pretty sure that there are other people out there who teach their intro courses in a similar fashion and that I didn’t invent this method. I’m curious to hear comments by anyone who uses a similar approach or has taken a course with this approach. Since this is my first time teaching the course this way, I’m anxious to see whether it makes a difference in student comprehension and interest. In my two intro courses this semester, it seems to be working well in terms of catching student interest but I’m not sure if it’s the approach itself or merely the fact that I was able to jump into topics that I’m genuinely passionate about earlier in the semester and therefore win over the students sooner with my own enthusiasm, something that often took much more time when I had to go through the evolution stuff (not that it’s not important, just that I have to fake a lot of my enthusiasm while teaching it). Once I start seeing test results, it will give me a better idea of actual student comprehension.